Originally printed in the February 2018 issue of Vogue Arabia.
She has a reach of nearly 10 million and ranks eighth in the world for her social media following, yet when it comes to her private life, Irina Shayk isn’t sharing anything. “I always separate my personal life and my public life,” she says, despite much prying and many probing questions – who doesn’t want to delve into the world of a supermodel, especially one coupled with a Hollywood idol?
In a society where there is a tendency to overshare on social media, Shayk’s reticence is quite refreshing. While she may have millions of Instagram followers, her posts are strictly professional – campaigns and editorials, as well as red carpet behind-the-scenes snaps, but never photos of her 11-month-old daughter, Lea De Seine, or Lea’s father, actor Bradley Cooper. When asked about her impossibly handsome family, she momentarily cracks, lowers her guard somewhat, and says, “I’m not talking about my personal life, but being a mother is definitely the best feeling in the world.” She won’t elaborate on her relationship with the Silver Linings Playbook star, who she has been with since 2015, after five years with footballer Cristiano Ronaldo. “The greatest love in my life is definitely my family and my friends,” she continues. “You can find love in anything – love of life, being grateful to the universe for every second of your life, warm feelings that you have for people around you.” Being vague and refusing to name names helps her steer clear from becoming tabloid fodder.
She’s more open, though, to talking about two family members in particular who have shaped her: late father and grandmother. “Love never dies. Even though I lost my father and my grandma, I feel they are always with me in my heart.” She inherited her dark Tatar looks from her coal miner father, Valery Shaykhlislamov (she shortened her surname to the shorter and easier-to-pronounce Shayk), who succumbed to pneumonia when she was 14. Her late grandma, a decorated member of the Red Army’s intelligence branch during the second world war, is her greatest role model. “She never gave up.
She was a true hero, strong and independent. Her life was never easy. She joined the second world war at 19 and was risking her life to protect her country. I admire her and miss her so much.” Her upbringing in the small rural town Yemanzhelinsk wasn’t easy, with her piano teacher mother, Olga, taking up extra work to raise Shayk and her older sister, Tatyana. “We grew our own vegetables because in Russia, you have to have a garden to survive.” It’s no surprise, then, that Shayk is headstrong. She once quipped: “Some people think I’m not nice. I’m Russian and I can be really Russian but I’m a very friendly Russian. I’m very straightforward– if I like you, I like you. If I don’t, then don’t even try to come near me.” This trait has seen her thrive in the competitive modeling industry. “Sometimes it’s not as glamorous as it looks and it can be a difficult job – jetlag, stress, long working hours – but I realize that there are more important, hard jobs like being a doctor or teacher.”
In an industry where most models are plucked from obscurity in their teens, Shayk arrived on the scene relatively late, at 20, after winning the Miss Chelyabinsk contest in 2004. Magazine covers
and fashion campaigns followed, including Intimissimi, Guess, and Armani Exchange, but it’s her role as a prominent Victoria’s Secret model that has ensured her global success and popularity – a Google search for her name brings up nearly 1 million results. “I was really proud to be the first Russian model on the cover of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, and I am definitely happy to be on the cover of Vogue Arabia,” she says. “When I heard it was launching, I was excited and curious to see how it would look, since each Vogue has a unique style. I hoped that one day I could work with the magazine, so I’m happy this dream came true!”
It hasn’t all been plain sailing for her, though. She left her homeland at 20 to pursue her career, moving first to Paris and then the US. “For me, the biggest challenge was the language barrier and not having my family with me. But I am happy that I started pretty late for a model as I was not a teenager. I knew exactly what I wanted. When I started modeling, I didn’t want to become a famous person. I considered it an opportunity to earn money and help my family.” It would be easy to assume that Shayk now leads an idyllic lifestyle, but she’s quick to point out that’s just one of the many misconceptions models face. “People think models don’t eat and stick to a strict diet to stay skinny,” she laughs. “I love tasty food and I love to eat. I consider food to be one of the biggest pleasures in life. If I have to give up great food and keep to a strict eating plan in order to be a model, then I’d stop modeling.”
She’s also dabbled in other creative fields, including music and acting, starring as Megara in the 2014 Dwayne Johnson film Hercules. Does she have plans to work on a film project with Bradley Cooper? She’s tight-lipped, but she does admit to enjoying her brief moment on the big screen. “Hercules was a great experience for me. It was a big challenge and I loved to act in such a great movie with an amazing team,” she says. “Being an actor is very different from being a model and for the moment, I love what I do.” A musical career is also not on the cards, even though, growing up, she played piano every day for seven years and still regularly attends concerts and operas. “I can’t imagine my life without music,” she says. Instead, her Plan B is to step away from the limelight. “If I gave up modeling tomorrow, I would concentrate on my family and my charity projects. I’m involved with several – from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to the Russian charity Pomogi. It’s an important part of life to give something to the world, not only to take.”
For Irina Shayk, revealing all is not an option and it’s clear that for her, actions speak louder than words. She does open up about one thing, though – her greatest life lesson: “Life is so short, we should enjoy every moment and cherish every second of it.”
Hair: Rolando Beauchamp at the Wall Group
Makeup: Tatyana Makarova
Nails: Mar y Soul Inzerillo at the Wall Group
Photography Assistant: Wendell Cole, Sloan Laurits
Stylist: Julia Gudova
Model: Irina Shayk at the Lions Model Management